The Associates were a Scottish post-punk and new wave duo of the early 1980s. They were well known for the operatic voice and theatrical antics of peacockian singer Billy Mackenzie who committed suicide in 1997.
1979–1982: Associates Mk 1
MacKenzie and guitarist Alan Rankine met in Dundee in 1976 and formed the cabaret duo The Ascorbic Ones. In 1979 they recorded songs under the name of Mental Torture before finally changing their name to The Associates. They then recorded their debut single, a cover of David Bowie's "Boys Keep Swinging". Their version attracted a good deal of attention, not least from David Bowie, as it was released before Bowie's version. A string of highly regarded singles were released and two albums The Affectionate Punch (which inspired bands such as U2) and Fourth Drawer Down.
The band's breakthrough came in 1982 with the release of the single "Party Fears Two." Buoyed along by the popularity of synthpop at the time, the song made #9 on the UK singles chart. Two other hits soon followed, "18 Carat Love Affair", and "Club Country". That year the band released what is widely regarded as their masterpiece Sulk, an album which exacted comparisons with Brian Wilson's production style. To this day Sulk is impossible to describe genre wise. It was largely conceived in an amphetamine induced frenzy, reflected in its watery and dense production style which is held to be remarkably different from almost any other record from the era.
1983–1990: Associates Mk 2 and Commercial Decline
left the band in 1982 just before the Sulk Tour. This proved disastrous in terms of the band's career, in particular as the band were being actively courted by Seymour Stein
who thought they could become massive stars in the USA. Mackenzie recorded some material under the name 39 Lyon Street
with friends and then continued to write and record music under the Associates name until 1990. The albums Perhaps, The Glamour Chase
(which was never released by his record company due to it being, in their opinion, commercially unviable. It was finally released in 2002) and Wild and Lonely
were made in this timescale. However without the guiding hand of Rankine, recordings were sporadic and arguably failed to reach the majesty or inventiveness of his earlier work. Associates records failed to reach the charts in the UK and sold far fewer than their early albums. Many fans also reckon that the Associates' record company were pushing Billy into homogenising The Associates' sound to fit in with what was popular at the time which is especially evident on the album Wild and Lonely
. True to the original band's name, he never stopped working and writing music with other "associates", either for himself or guest-starring in other artists' albums with always stunning lead or backing vocals.
1991–Present: Split and aftermath
The Associates name was put to rest by Mackenzie when he became enamoured with dance and elctronica and released a solo album Outernational
in 1992 with limited success. In 1993 he got back together with Alan Rankine to do some music together. The original Associates reforming generated hype and speculation of a tour and the demos recorded by the two were promising. However Mackenzie was not fully committed to the reunion and especially touring with it so the Associates split for a final time. Billy then went back to his solo work up until 1997 and his tragic suicide, signing a deal with Nude Records
and finding a new collabrative partner in Steve Aungle. A couple of songs were subsequently recorded by friends of Billy Mackenzie
that reflected the sadness and the feeling of missed opportunities caused by his death: The Cure
's 2001 single, "Cut Here" and The Creatures
' "Say" (1999)
Billy MacKenzie committed suicide in 1997 aged 39, shortly after the death of his mother. He had been suffering from clinical depression. He was contemplating a comeback at the time with material co-written mostly with Scottish musician Steve Aungle. The albums Beyond the Sun (1997) and Eurocentric (2000) were released posthumously and re-constructed (and expanded with new unreleased songs) in 2004 into two albums: Auchtermatic and Transmission Impossible.
Lead singer Billy MacKenzie became renowned for his dramatic vocal style, and he achieved a cult following, eventually becoming involved with Swiss avant garde outfit Yello. During his tenure with Yello he wrote the lyrics of the song "The Rhythm Divine" performed by Shirley Bassey on the album One Second, with MacKenzie also doing backing vocals.
Alan Rankine is now a lecturer in music at Stow College in Glasgow, and worked with Belle & Sebastian on their debut album, Tigermilk in 1996. The book "The Glamour Chase" by Tom Doyle documents the band's career and MacKenzie's subsequent life.
Before Mackenzie's death almost all Associates records had been deleted. Former band member Michael Dempsey and the Mackenzie estate began a reissue program to make sure The Associates legacy continues. Almost every Associates album has been re-issued so far, including a 25-Anniversary edition of The Affectionate Punch in 2005.
In addition to the original albums, two compilations have been released: Double Hipness (2000), a collection of early tracks with the 1993' reunion demos and Singles (2004), an extended version of Popera - The singles collection which catches up with post-1990 material and includes the cover of Bowie's "Boys Keep Swinging". In 2002, The Glamour Chase recorded in the years 1985-87 was eventually released. Finally, the 90s album Wild & Lonely and Mackenzie solo album Outernational have been released in 2006, repackaged with bonus tracks.
The Smiths song "William It Was Really Nothing" is often erroneously said to be a tribute from lead-singer Steven Patrick Morrissey to Billy Mackenzie. In 1993 he recorded "Stephen, You're Really Something," later released on the 2000 compilation "Double Hipness," which is often pointed to as confirmation of the rumour. However, statements from Morrissey himself, the misspelling of the first name, and the fact that Mackenzie did not actually pen the song seem to dispel any such rumours.
Artists who have covered "Party Fears Two" include The Divine Comedy and Dan Bryk.
An instrumental section of "Party Fears Two" was used as the theme music for the long-running BBC Radio 4 satirical current affairs series Week Ending.
Albums and Compilations
- The Affectionate Punch (Fiction, 1980)
- Fourth Drawer Down (Situation Two, 1981)
- Sulk (WEA, 1982)
- The Affectionate Punch (Remixed) (Fiction, 1982)
- Perhaps (WEA, 1985)
- The Glamour Chase (WEA, 1988) - but unreleased until 2003
- Wild And Lonely (circa 1990)
- Popera (WEA East West, 1990)
- The Radio 1 Sessions (Nighttracks, 1994)
- Double Hipness (V2, 2000)
- Radio 1 Sessions Volume 1;1981-83 (Strange Fruit, 2003)
- Radio 1 Sessions Volume 2;1984-85 (Strange Fruit, 2003)
- Singles (Warners, 2004)
- Boys Keep Swinging (Double Hip, 1979)
- The Affectionate Punch (Fiction, 1980)
- A (1981)
- Would I...Bounce Back? (1981)
- Q Quarters (Situation Two, 1981)
- Tell Me Easter's on Friday (Situation Two, 1981)
- Kites [as 39 Lyon Street] (1981)
- Kitchen Person (Situation Two, 1981)
- Message Oblique Speech (Situation Two, 1981)
- White Car in Germany (Situation Two, 1981)
- Party Fears Two (WEA, 1982) UK #9
- Club Country (WEA, 1982) UK #13
- 18 Carat Love Affair/Love Hangover (WEA, 1982) UK #21
- Those First Impressions (1984) UK #43
- Waiting For the Love Boat (1984) UK #53
- Breakfast (1984) UK #49
- Take Me To the Girl (1985) UK #95
- Heart of Glass (1988) UK #56
- Country Boy (WEA, 1989 -withdrawn)
- Fever (1990) UK #81
- Fire to Ice (1990) UK #92
- Just Can't Say Goodbye (1990) UK #79
- ''Unreleased tracks Sinking Deeper and The Hungry Look recorded 1980 under name Strange News. Billy, Steve Reid and rhythm section Andy and Gavin. Only copies of tracks exist.